“What are you waiting for?”
The majority of romantic comedies are connected to a life support machine pumping them full of artery clogging cheesy affirmations and grossly tidy humor. So does Man Up. Yet contrary to others in this genre, the movie actually listens to itself, practices what it preaches. If only more films could pull this off, wouldn’t succumb to metastasizing negativity to all of its parts. How it manages to be cute, stupid, confused and shamelessly love drunk all at once is beyond me. Man Up is, for the most part, a simple-minded and feel good movie that manages to work without all of the unnecessary complexities.
Our leading lady in this contained and quaint tale of accidental love is Nancy (Lake Bell). She’s 34, comfortable alone with no desire of begrudgingly listing herself on the buyer’s market. A badly botched date leads Nancy to a new destination at none other than a train station — her new journey is about to begin. Man Up uses the classic date and switch story device that leads to an awkward and fast-paced meet cute. Thinking she is someone else, Jack (Simon Pegg), himself on a blind date, takes Nancy to be his match and she silently plays the part. I’m not sure I bought the romance but it still creates intrigue. Bell and Pegg are just as infectious apart as they are together.
Somewhere out there is a 90’s film with the exact same skeleton. Written by Tess Morris, Man Up shakes up the formula (one night, goes haywire, built-in romance) by having a unique set of teeth. Of course we get common backdrops with clingy high school stalkers and recently separated spouses, because, well, that’s what movies like this do. Man Up is plainly flavored mouthwash; it’s refreshing, we swirl around in the bliss of that initial bursting bite, and then spit it right back out. All of the mottos and monologues and declarations of love feel regurgitated. Because Morris writes her characters with detail and director Ben Palmer let’s his two leads spark an on-screen chemistry, even if the mistaken for strangers lovebirds don’t see it, we forgive the treacherous acts of exaggeration. Man Up may be the nerdy kid on the cafeteria table, proclaiming his love to the blushing and embarrassed prom queen. That never ends well. But you know what? It takes guts.
Getting to know Nancy and Jack is fun, engaging, and a playful spin on the typically familiar people guiding us through these stories. The journey is sweet; the destination not so much. Nancy is a bit selfish, choosing to finally put herself out there instead of making a big speech at her parent’s anniversary party. So, by the time we get there, it feels like a race run until the final step across the finish line. We can’t connect to her big moment because we don’t emotionally connect to her parents or the family and friends. Why does Nancy have to give the speech? What does it mean to everyone? Why should Jack believably fall for this charmingly deceptive woman? Look for the answers and you’ll find none. Man Up has big problems and masks them with a blissful ignorance. Like Jack and Nancy, it overthinks itself, but its observations manage to be practical, honest, and sincere.
“Take a chance.”
Rating: 3 out of 5